A native Long Islander was confirmed dead on Thursday, two weeks after he and his brother were reported missing in the collapse of a condominium in Surfside, Fla.
Gary Cohen, 58, who reportedly lived in Alabama was visiting his brother, Brad, at the time, was found dead in the rubble by search crews on Wednesday. Miami-Dade County Police confirmed his death Thursday morning, as the death toll rose to 60, one day after officials declared there was no longer hope of finding anyone alive.
“We have identified an additional victim that sadly and unexpectedly lost his life in the tragic Surfside building collapse,” police officials wrote in a statement. “Please keep his family and loved ones in your prayers.”
According to a report from NBC New York, Gary’s brother, Brad, lived in Surfside and was also missing in the collapse. The Miami-Dade County Police have not yet come forward with any information about Brad.
#UPDATE 66: We have identified an additional victim that sadly and unexpectedly lost his life in the tragic Surfside building collapse. Please keep his family and loved ones in your prayers. pic.twitter.com/RfuPY1HyxD
— Miami-Dade Police (@MiamiDadePD) July 8, 2021
The brothers were longtime acquaintances of Dix Hills Rabbi Yakov Saacks, according to NBC New York. A friend said Gary was a doctor at a VA hospital in Tuscaloosa, A.l., and Brad was also a doctor and a father of two. The rabbi was set to travel to Florida with a third Cohen brother and the Cohens’ parents when he spoke with NBC News a week after the collapse.
“I feel sick. Heartbroken, I’m a basket case,” Saacks told reporters.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said 80 people were still considered missing in the Champlain Towers South disaster, believed to have been inside the 12-story residential building when it abruptly crumbled on June 24. That number could change as not all may have been in the building when it fell.
“The work continues with all speed and urgency,” she said, adding that search teams suspended work at 1:20 a.m. to observe the two-week mark since the catastrophe.
Of the 60 confirmed dead, 35 have been identified, Levine Cava said.
“Our detectives are working hand in hand with the crime scene and medical examiner personnel, moving as fast as we can to identify the victims and notify the next of kin in order to bring closure to the families,” she said.
As of midnight on Thursday, the emergency effort officially changed from an attempt to find survivors to a recovery operation, destroying any hope of extracting anyone still breathing amid the debris.
“Yesterday was tough,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said at the news conference, referring to the announcement of the shift to recovery mode. “But the work is going to go on and they are going to identify every single person.”
After the announcement, hundreds of people gathered for a vigil near the disaster site on Wednesday evening, struggling to come to terms with their loved ones’ fate.
DeSantis and other officials vowed to meet the various needs of affected families, which they noted would last long into the future. U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, whose South Florida district includes Surfside, promised to help people navigate bureaucratic hurdles to get the assistance they needed.
Levine Cava told reporters that discussions have begun on doing “something different to commemorate” the tragedy and its victims.
-With Reuters (Reporting Brad Brooks in Surfside, Florida and Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Howard Goller and Jonathan Oatis)
Sign up for Long Island Press’ email newsletters here. Sign up for home delivery of Long Island Press here. Sign up for discounts by becoming a Long Island Press community partner here.